In the Name....
A pastor once said to an elderly parishioner who would always obsess over whatever was on the evening news that she should be spending more time thinking about the hereafter. "Why, I do that every day", she said, "I go from room to room saying, now what am I here after?"
Have you ever had one of those days when you've stopped and asked yourself, "How did I get here?" Now, they don't have to be bad days, sometimes these can be good thoughts. Maybe we just stepped into the garage and asked ourselves, now, which car will I take today? then suddenly be reminded, hold on, there was a time when I didn't even have one car. But, we tend to take good times for granted and it's only when things go wrong, or we're under some stress that we start asking questions like; How did I get here, or What am I going to do now?
Of course, one of the things we do when we try to make sense of the present is consult the past. We often look back when we try to justify or explain why things have turned out a certain way.
Bringing the past up-to-date is something we all do. We review what has been, in the light of experience. Certain people, events, dates, suddenly become more important with hindsight. An encounter we once brushed off is seen to be directly related to something happening now. Old voices are listened to with a new attentiveness, past decisions are relived and reviewed, ancient texts, if you will, are consulted with a modern eye. Our previous history points to our present. A pattern slowly emerges. Things can begin to make sense.
So it is in today's first reading from Acts. Peter is trying to give meaning to certain current events when he says, "Friends, the scripture had to be fulfilled”, "For it is written in the book of Psalms...".
Consider the setting. Jesus had just returned to the Father and told his disciples that they were to wait for the Holy Spirit. Of course, the disciples had no idea how long they were supposed to wait. It turned out to be nine days, but, as far as they were concerned it could have been 99,000 and so Peter, as leader of the community, decides that it's time to make some organizational arrangements while they're waiting and tidy up some unfinished business. The issue of Judas.
Judas? How is he an issue this late in the game? I thought we left him back in Holy Week hanging off the end of a tree in the Potter's Field.
Well, he's an issue because the organization of the church was very hazy at this point. Peter knew that Jesus had chosen twelve core disciples for a reason, to represent the twelve tribes, and with Judas gone that left a vacancy which probably should be filled. But, how should he do this?
He starts by setting up criteria - the replacement had to be someone who knew Jesus personally and could speak about him. Then, he establishes a procedure - the casting of lots - which was commonly used in the Old Testament. And he justifies all this by taking passages from the Psalms which have no obvious connection, but, which he uses as a way to connect the past with the present.
It's truly an "Aha" moment because what Peter is doing is imitating the models and methods of the Old Testament leaders. That's all he has to go on and so he takes that history and places himself in it. It's really an amazing thing that's going on here because Peter was no Bible scholar. All he has is faith.
As an aside, I can just imagine what Peter recounting this story meant to them. We forget, but, Judas was Peter's best friend. And, he was Matthew's best friend and Thomas' best friend and all their best friends and they were his. The Twelve were a close-knit group. They heard all the sermons. They saw all the miracles. The betrayal was of them as much as Jesus.
And, even though he was the leader, Peter hadn't exactly been the hero of the hour. He was sleeping when asked to watch, fleeing under cover of darkness, and finally denying Christ three times. Telling this story must have been painful for him as much as for the rest of them. But, in asking the community to move on, Peter is also allowing himself to move on from the events of that terrible night. And, in moving on, he makes it possible to have a future different from his past.
There's a great saying, "If you don't know where you've been, how do you know where you're going?"
You can see here the attempts of the Early Church to make sense of where they might be going by scouring where they had been. Today’s lesson shows us the moment when Peter and the disciples must step through the door of faith on their own not knowing if they've made the right decision. Not knowing if the future will confirm their actions. And this is the proof of their faith. That they're willing to take risks. In finding a successor to Judas, they may say the choice is up to God, but, they're the ones who roll the dice.
As we live each day and walk, as St. Paul says, by faith, we, like the first disciples, need both the support of the past, and the willingness to roll the dice for the future. The past can inform us, but, for all its value as a guide, the past cannot provide solutions. It is neither an excuse nor a crutch. We are responsible for our own actions, for the way we try to act upon the leading of God in our lives. That means we have to take risks, but, then, by definition, the future is a dicey business.
One thing we can be sure of, however, as was Peter. Those final words of Jesus on the Mount of the Ascension. "Lo, I am with you always, even to the end of time." Even to the end of time.
No matter what has gone before, no matter what we experience now, those words make the future look pretty good. In fact, with those words in our hearts and his presence by our side, even if we wonder how we got here, we'll never have to wonder what we're here after.
In the Name...